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"The question that was posed to them was, 'Do you think that this could be a project that could result in, essentially, a marketable product?'" Vocci recalls. "There was concern about brain damage, seizures and heart rate. But it wasn't so much that the ultimate safety of the drug was being damned; it was just felt that there were an awful lot of warts on this thing."
Lotsof went his own way, mentoring fellow former addicts who opened ibogaine rehab centers abroad. Mash opened a private clinic in the Caribbean and administered ibogaine to nearly 300 addicts. "It really works," Mash says now. "If it didn't work, I would have told the world it doesn't work. I would have debunked it, and I would have been the most outspoken leader of the pack. That's my scientific and professional credibility on the line."
Wilkins, keeper of the magic milkshake, is one of Lotsof's protégés. Born in South Africa and raised in Los Angeles, she got hooked on heroin as a 20-year-old at Cornell University. Drugs led to depression, and she dropped out her senior year. Years later, while still trying to kick her habit, her younger sister learned about ibogaine on the Internet. Wilkins, then 30 years old and employed as a bookkeeper, read up on the subject, started saving up and, in 2005, shelled out $3,200 for a session at the Ibogaine Association, a clinic in Tijuana.
The trip — in both senses of the word — changed her life.
"I received a direct message that I was washed in love," Wilkins says of her first encounter with the hallucinogen. "That the universe in its entirety is full of love, and that courses through us and was there for me. There was this soul body, this light body that had no beginning and no end. My fingers had no end. There were atoms coming in and going out.
"It got me off methadone completely," she says. "My sense of shame about my addiction was washed away without having to practice with a therapist and talk, talk, talk."
The experience was so profound that she elected to stay on at the clinic as a volunteer. Confident and chatty, with long brown curls and a disarming smile, Wilkins feels that she has a knack for guiding patients through their ibogaine-induced spiritual awakenings.
"On ibogaine, all your walls come down," she says. "You can't lie. You get an opportunity to look at yourself honestly and see how you respond. My role is to be there as a comfort. People compliment me by saying, 'You knew exactly when to hold my hand.'"
In 2006, Martin Polanco, director of the Ibogaine Association, offered Wilkins a full-time job. She had heard rumors that he was considering selling the clinic in the coming year, and on a whim she offered to buy the clinic.
"It was one of those 'can I put that back in my mouth?' moments," Wilkins recounts with a laugh. "I didn't have the money. I didn't even have a car."
Wilkins borrowed $3,000 from her mother for a down payment, changed the clinic's name to Pangea Biomedics and made monthly payments to Polanco for the next year and a half.
Having paid off the $65,000 debt, Wilkins' first order of business was to relocate. Tijuana residents — and rehab clinics in particular — have been terrorized during Mexico's ongoing drug war. Late last month, gunmen stormed a clinic and murdered 13 people, execution style. (The mayhem wasn't random. Drug gangs operate such facilities as safe havens for their foot soldiers.) Wilkins' primary concern, however, was noisy neighbors in the duplex, not narco violence.